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The Health Benefits of Eating More Plants

Let’s talk about plants — more than likely, you’ve been urged to eat them for as long as you can remember. Whether it was mom’s nagging at the dinner table, or the compulsory scoop of soggy veggies at the school cafeteria, or the internal pressure as an adult to opt for the salad at lunch, there’s an ingrained understanding that eating plants is “good for you.” But beyond that basic reasoning, what exactly makes eating more vegetables (and plants in general) so great?

It’s no secret that we’ve always been passionate about plant-based eating at Mosaic — it’s great for the environment, and is one of the most effective ways to consume consciously. But thanks to years of scientific research, and a new recent report, the results are officially in: eating more plants has incredible benefits for your health, too.

Plant-based diets come in different forms though, and can look different depending on individual preferences. Vegetarians abstain from eating meat (and oftentimes seafood), but otherwise eat all other foods, including animal byproducts like eggs and dairy. Vegans, on the other hand, do not eat any animal products — that includes dairy, and even condiments like mayonnaise or honey. Then there are flexatarians, who categorize themselves as semi-vegetarians, with a diet centered around plant foods, with the occasional consumption of meat and seafood. Finally, a whole food plant-based (WFPB) diet is the most plant-centered, defined by its emphasis on what to eat, rather than on what not to eat.

In any variation of plant-forward eating though, it’s important to limit processed foods and preservatives as much as possible. Oftentimes, people intuitively equate being vegetarian or limiting animal products with being healthy, but this isn’t necessarily true. A diet devoid of meat or dairy, but filled instead with processed foods like chips, candy, and other snack foods, can negate the initial benefits of eating less animal products. The healthiest diets incorporate whole foods that are as close to their natural form as possible — think fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and grains. A good way to visualize it? Ask yourself, “Could I find this growing outside looking just like this (or close to it)?” If the answer is yes, it’s likely a lot healthier for you. Now compare that to foods that are categorized as plant-based, but still considered processed: for instance, plant-based meats, which you certainly wouldn’t find in patty form in nature, often contain fat and calorie content comparable to actual meat, not to mention high levels of sodium. The biggest takeaway? Choose plant-based whole foods to truly invest in your health.

Leaning towards a plant-rich diet, in whatever form feels right for you, can reap huge benefits when it comes to your health. Below are 5 reasons why eating more plants can help you live a healthier life:

 

1. Strengthen your immune system:

A normal part of life is getting sick, and getting healthy. But we can help our immune system do its best work by feeding it the right foods. Vegetables, fruits, beans, grains, nuts and seeds are chock full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and helpful compounds called phytonutrients that keep your cells healthy and ready to fight off infection when you need them to. In fact, 70 to 80 percent of our immune system lives in our gut. That means that the greater variety of plant foods you put in it, the better it is for your body, since every food contains different nutrients that work in tandem with the others.

2. Maintain a healthy weight:

According to the CDC, over 40 percent of Americans are overweight. But research shows that people who eat a plant-based diet tend to have lower body weights, even if weight loss was not their initial motivation. However, for those hoping to trim down, plant-based eating has shown to significantly aid in not just losing weight, but also keeping it off. That’s because vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes are a significant source of fiber, which keeps you fuller longer, and prevents frequent cravings. Additionally, eating plant-based naturally removes a lot of the fat you might otherwise consume from meat or animal products.

3. Improve heart health and lower blood pressure:

Meat contains saturated fat — and in excess, contributes to high blood pressure. That’s a big problem, since hypertension is the catalyst for a multitude of health problems like heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. But the foods you eat can make a huge impact. A 2017 study found that a plant-based diet can significantly lower blood pressure — so much so that researchers believe it’s the most important intervention, followed by exercise and weight loss. The health benefits of eating plant-based are cyclical, and one benefit can often be directly linked to another. The perfect example: a lower body weight is typically associated with lower blood pressure; lower blood pressure equates to a healthier heart; and a stronger heart means lower risk of life-threatening conditions like heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer.

4. Better mental health:

We often focus on the physical effects of our diets, but tend to overlook the impact it can have on our mental health. But it turns out that increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables is good for your brain too. A review of nine studies published in 2017 found that eating an additional 100 grams of plants each day can reduce the risk of cognitive impairment and dementia by 13 percent. Scientists attribute it to the fact that fruits and vegetables have high polyphenol content, which has been shown to help slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

5. Longer lifespan:

When you lower your risk factors for disease, boost your immune system, and manage your weight effectively, the overall effect isn’t too surprising: people who eat more plants tend to live longer. A report published just this month found that diets with no animal products show fewer mortality risks, with those risks increasing the more that meat (particularly red and processed) is included. And in a JAHA study published last year, researchers found that a plant-based diet lowered all causes of death by 25 percent. Replacing even just a few animal-based foods with plant-based ones can make a big difference in the long run.

 

So, the proof is in the plant-based pudding — even if we didn’t scientifically know why before, it’s clear today that cutting back on meat while filling up on plants and whole foods is a simple, proven way to make a long-lasting impact on your health. If you’re ready to make the jump, check out our guide on switching to a plant-based diet.

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